SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday substantive differences remain with North Korea on its overdue nuclear declaration and she did not expect an immediate breakthrough.
Rice spoke after the lead U.S. negotiator with North Korea, Chris Hill, met his North Korean counterpart in Geneva on Thursday to try to revive a stalled 2005 agreement under which Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for diplomatic and economic benefits.
The deal, which suffered a severe setback when Pyongyang tested a nuclear device in October 2006, has been bogged down more recently by North Korea’s failure to produce a promised declaration of its nuclear programs by the end of last year.
A sticking point of the declaration had been Pyongyang’s reluctance to discuss any transfers of nuclear technology to other nations, notably Syria, as well as its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment.
“My understanding is that there will now have to be some period of referral to capitals and so I wouldn’t expect anything immediate, but it’s time to solve this issue of the declaration and that’s what we are going to keep doing,” Rice told reporters as she flew from Brazil to Chile, her final stop on a two-day trip to Latin America.
U.S. officials have raised the possibility of North Korea addressing the proliferation and uranium enrichment issues in separate documents, providing what might be a face-saving solution for Pyongyang.
Rice said the disagreement was still over the substance of what North Korea may disclose, not the form.
“It’s still a matter of substance,” Rice told reporters. She said Hill had no plans to return to Geneva although other U.S. officials remained for talks with the North Koreans.
The 2005 agreement was hammered out among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States
Under the second phase of the denuclearization agreement, North Korea committed to disable its nuclear facility at Yongbyon, where it has produced plutonium, and to make a “complete and correct” declaration.
The United States has held out the prospect of dropping North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and of easing sanctions under the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act.
U.S. officials have stressed that Pyongyang must lay to rest U.S. questions about any proliferation activities as well as its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment.
The United States has questions about any possible North Korean role in a suspected covert Syrian nuclear site bombed by Israel in September. Syria has denied having a nuclear program but the case remains murky.
A highly enriched uranium (HEU) program would give North Korea a second source of fissile material with which it could produce nuclear weapons in addition to its plutonium-based nuclear facilities.
Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, editing by Todd Eastham